Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 & 1 Peter 1: 2-11
Self-Discovery in the Wilderness (Part Four): Admiration, Envy, Disappointment & Regret

 Self-Discovery in the Wilderness (Part Four): Admiration, Envy, Disappointment & Regret

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 & 1 Peter 1: 2-11 ~ Northwood UC ~ March 27, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook  

As the weather gets warmer, it causes us to think towards outdoor activities that reunite us with the water. Being near the water, being around the water, being in the water is something that does our soul good, doesn’t it? And, in this context, many of us think about swimming. Who among us doesn’t love to frolic, splash, and play in the water as the weather gets warmer? Who among us doesn’t love to swim?  

The image before us is a familiar one of a swimming pool. We can see the lane for the swimmer defined by the floating red, white, and blue markers that sit along the top of the water. And on the bottom of the pool are dark coloured tiles that the swimmer uses to follow along in their lane. The floor tiles and the floating markers allow for swimming to be achieved in a relatively straight direction from one end to the other. The problem with swimming is always the challenge of not going too far off course one way or too far off course the other. The most efficient swimmers follow the markers and stay in their own lane. So, the floating markers and dark coloured pool tiles assist the swimmers to stay on course, and swim in a straight direction.  

The emotions we explore this Sunday all have a foundation in that tempting thing we humans do so very well….looking away and comparing ourselves to others. The emotions of admiration, envy, disappointment and regret all have roots in our human tendency to compare. While comparison is not an emotion, it is a driver of all these emotions that may lead to us being hurtful to ourselves and, at other times, being hurtful to others. A group of Social Psychologists (see Jerry Suls, Renee Martin, and Ladd Wheeler in Current Directions in Psychological Science) recently noted that “comparing the self with others, either intentionally or unintentionally, is a pervasive social phenomenon.” Comparison is what we do; it is how we are hard-wired; it is our nature. And in one of Dr. Brenee Brown’s earlier books (The Gifts of Imperfection), she challenges her readers to begin becoming aware of our comparison tendency…of letting go of our comparison nature…and ultimately trying to loosen the grip we have towards this comparison way if we are ever to move further towards whole-hearted living.  

I think this is why the passage in Ecclesiastes continues to speak to us, even millennia later. The wisdom contained in ‘for everything there is a season’ offers a timeless context for us to live through the ups and downs in life. It is helpful in the downs of life to know that “There is a time to be born and a time to die…there is a time to mourn and a time to dance”. This reading, of course, is not just for those navigating grief, though it does offer such helpful comfort in its prose. In some of the difficult moments of life, such as dealing with the death of a loved one, we are embraced by the comfort that there is indeed a time for the pain which we are holding. In fact, we are wise to hold space for this time and not just jump out of it. Understood in this way, “a time to die…a time for mourning” is an invitation to be in your place of loss, which is yours, for now. To embrace this time for what it might offer to you…not to avoid this season…not to get stuck in it…but to allow this time to be a season of healing, hope, and recovery in your life.     

I think that this is where the tendency towards comparison will always pull us off track. The emotions of admiration, envy, disappointment and regret can be those emotions that take us away from fully living where we are here and now. We can’t fully live because we are thinking about where we would rather be. In these hard times in life, our comparison tendency will always try to draw us away from the present moment. Emotions like disappointment and regret draw us into the past as we lament what we didn’t accomplish…what we didn’t do…what we left undone. On the other end of the spectrum emotions like admiration and envy draw us away from being in the moment as we admire or envy others who seemingly have the joy and comfort we yearn for. And so, our human tendency towards comparison is one that constantly threatens to pull us off track because that is how we are wired. And like the swimmer in the pool, we need the dark tiles on the bottom and the red, white and blue floaters on the surface to keep us in the present time….the present season…which is ours. We need that guidance to be in the moment which may be about joy…or the moment which may be about pain…or the moment which may be about the, seemingly, mundane parts of life. For, as live in each moment God offers, we inevitably discover that in each of these rich moments in life, God is with us.  

I particularly am struck by the concluding portion of the Ecclesiastes reading as we think of these emotions of admiration, envy, disappointment, and regret. We don’t always read these few verses after the litany of the seasons but these concluding words put them all in wonderful context. “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. [God] has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” After the litany of seasons that we take in…that we embrace one after another: birth…death; planting…harvesting; killing…healing; destruction…building; weeping…laughing; mourning…dancing; loving…hating; war…peace.  

After this litany comes the concluding wisdom that EVERYTHING is beautiful in its time. I think the crux of this passage is a deep call towards a profound faith. To embrace the depth and beauty of each moment is one of trusting that God is there for you, isn’t it? To trust that God is here amidst the joy…that’s something that we can do with relative ease. “For everything there is a season: to plant, to be born, to love, to laugh, for peace…those are relatively easy seasons to live in, aren’t they? And few of us find the emotions of admiration, envy, disappointment, and regret when we are in these times of joy, do we? But when the harder seasons arrive, this passage calls us to live with a deep faith as it instructs us that “everything is beautiful in its time.” Everything…beautiful…in its time?” The season of war…of death…of mourning…of weeping? These are beautiful in their time? This is when our human tendency to comparison takes us off course and we find these emotions of admiration, envy, disappointment, and regret. A deep faith, inspired by this passage, allows us to stay on course…just like the swimmer…to stay in that season with the faith that God’s grace will make it beautiful; that God’s power will be with us; that God’s healing will come. It allows us to live a rich life experiencing all the dimension that life offers as we stay in that moment…in that season…that is beautiful in its time.  

I want to shift here to the Peter’s letter that David read from. It would be hard for us to fathom what it might be like to live in the shadow of the Roman Empire, in a house-church community, in the City of Rome. But this is the context that Peter writes to in this passage. Giving his own list of comparison-related behaviours, he calls them to rid yourselves of them! He calls them to long, as newborn infants do, for pure spiritual milk of living in faith…living in each moment…living with a deep faith that each moment is beautiful in its time. He concludes the letter reminding them that in past they were not a people; in the past they had not received mercy. But now…they are God’s people! Now…they HAVE received mercy. “Beloved (he concludes) I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul”.  

What might your life look like if you were to truly be present in the moment? If you were to have a faith that believed that “everything is beautiful in its moment?” If you were to begin to fill your cup with the pure spiritual milk of faith, rather than allowing admiration, envy, disappointment, and regret to take you away from that one beautiful life that God has given unto you.  

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin famously said that ‘we are spiritual beings having a human experience’; however, we quickly forget this truth and live as if it were the opposite. We allow our humanity to take away the depth and wonder of this beautiful life when we let human tendencies like comparison steal away the richness of each moment. The beauty of this life that God offers is so often missed. So, are we: humans living a life with some spirituality? Or are we spiritual beings with a deep faith having a human experience? May we have the faith to drink the spiritual milk of faith; may we have the faith to embrace the beauty of each season in which we live. May we take in this one wonderful life that God offers.